One of the first techniques hunters learn is the art of calling, but it is far from the first technique that hunters master. Using a deer call is the easiest part, knowing when to call is difficult. Do not let this intimidate you however, it is achievable to call in deer even as a first-time hunter. Knowing the different types of calls and the basics on how and when to use them will put you on the right path and not have to fear spooking deer with your whitetail deer calling.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
This is perhaps the most common sound people think of when they think about deer sounds. It’s the sound bucks make to assert dominance in most cases. Younger bucks have a higher pitched voice than older bucks, so a grunt call with pitch control would be a good starting point for beginners. As you get more practice, you can switch to a call where you control the pitch with your hands. Grunts are most effective during the rut, but still viable pre rut and post rut. They’re mainly used when a buck is in sight, but out of range. Watch their body language and the direction they are going.
If he’s coming to you, there’s no need to call. If he’s out of range and walking further away, start with a soft short grunt when he’s moving or not looking at you. Imagine sitting across the room from someone and giving them a quick “ey” to get their attention.
Don’t make it any louder than what you would consider normal talking volume. Watch how he responds, if he starts making his way towards you, stop calling. However, if he ignores you, give another “ey”, but a tad bit louder. Continue to read his body language. If he persists on ignoring you, give a call with attitude, still not in the range of yelling, but firm and assertive. Try a longer phrase like “heey… ey. ey”. It’s tough to convey phrase duration and tone in an article, so definitely watch YouTube videos on deer grunt calling to get a sense of these sounds. Just keep their body language in mind and start soft and work your way up to aggressive if they don’t respond.
Bleats are the other main type of call. Everyone that has ever deer hunted has probably used a bleat can at some point. These are the easiest to use and as such, they are the most popular. The bleat can is a short plastic can that you use by turning upside down. That’s it. There’s not much more to it than that. While being extremely easy to use, it severely limits your ability to construct phrases and vary pitch, volume and tone. I’d learn to use a mouth bleat call starting out. In a very basic sense, fawns bleat to let their mom know where they are (like a ping), and they bleat in distress; either distress from predators or from being separated from their mother. Does will bleat for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to pinging back to their child, giving an all clear to surrounding deer, communicating with bucks during the rut, or herd communication throughout the year.
The last popular call is the rattle, which is used to mimic bucks sparring. Traditionally this was done by crashing a set of antlers together, but now we have small hand-held rattles that do just as good of a job, but without being as cumbersome. Rattles are almost exclusively used during the rut, and like the grunt, there’s different levels of duration, and volume for different stages of the rut.
During the rut, I like to hang a small set of antlers from my treestand. I tie them together at the base just as I would a normal set of rattling antlers only I hang this set from my stand so that they are partially sitting on the ground. I can then use that hanging set to tickle the tines and rub the leaves. This works well to bring a curious buck in to bow range.
There you have it, a basic overview on calling whitetails. I recommend getting a combo call if you’re just starting out. Combo calls are like regular mouth calls, but with an adjustable reed for mimicking buck grunts, and doe-fawn bleats. As you get the hang of it, then you can move up to better sounding calls specific to bucks/does/fawns that give you more range and control over each individual sound.